It was the best of times, it was the most savage of times. So could be said with these times of ours, what with the political savagery that chews through long-fought ideals like scraps of meat, or of a populace that savagely takes and takes of its Earth in the name of GDP, but goddamn if we aren’t having a selfie-good time sinking on this ship together, rocking our heads off in a sweat-drenched venue or garage.
These times are indeed ripe, too, for a savagely wild amount of creativity fueled by the good old-fashioned inner upset that comes from a distressing world. The bad times, after all, are the best time to have a good time. Case in point: Savage Times, the new collected works of Hanni El Khatib, the happily noisy L.A. indie rocker who will wash SOhO Restaurant & Music Club down with a healthy amount of frothy guitar distortion this Thursday, February 23, joined by The Buttertones and S.B.’s very own Clean Spill.
With fuzzed-out vocals and all manner of rock styling, from more traditionalist blues rock to almost glammy disco-driven ditties or arena-rock-like stompers, his new work is a diverse set of different directions boosted by bold lyrical confessions. “I think that during the process of making this body of work, I unlocked something new in my songwriting,” El Khatib said, who takes on subjects like gentrification and immigration without hesitation in his Black Keys–esque tunes. “I’ve always loved storytelling and blurring the lines between fiction and personal antidotes in my own music. But it seems now I’m truly able to really dig deep and explore topics that are directly related to my life.”
These days, it’s easier than ever, what with the stingingly strict immigration policies of certain executive officials. “Given what’s going on today, I just feel it’s important for me to express how these things are affecting my life on a personal level,” said the American-born son of Filipino and Palestinian descent. “I never want to forget how I was raised or lose that connection to my heritage.”
It’s interesting and important to note the boisterous but heartfelt garage rocker’s previous work as a designer for skateboard lifestyle and streetwear brand HUF, for which he crafted slickly gritty images with pro skateboarder friend Keith Hufnagel. His sound became associated with athletic feats and extreme sports when his cover of Funkadelic’s “I Got a Thing” earned national attention in a Nike commercial. The stroke of luck allowed him to pursue his professional creativity even further.
Now, he has continued co-architecting on a legacy of L.A. indie-rock iconography with the record label he cofounded, Innovative Leisure. His personal lyrical honesty lies behind a tough-rocker image, the good look of being badly bruised on failed wheelies and whiskey binges. His video for the single “Savage Times” has the frayed look of a VHS tape. “I really love the analog look and feel. It’s unpredictable and can be very disruptive, especially in this modern day when everything looks so slick and polished,” said the musician-artist, who self-produces his music and makes his own videos. “DIY is all about the philosophy. It’s all about taking matters into your own hands. No one is going to just give you what you want.”
Ultimately, these are good times for El Khatib, who responded from his chill L.A. abode with girlfriend, dog, and a cactus garden grown through obsessive gathering and potting, and there’s lots to be grateful for. To listeners and aspiring creatives like him, he encourages: “Freak freely.”
411 Hanni El Khatib plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) with openers The Buttertones and Clean Spill on Thursday, February 23, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com.